England v South Africa: James Anderson relishing Dale Steyn battle
All Out Cricket magazine's Jo Harman catches up with James Anderson ahead of the Test series against South Africa
With 267 Test wickets – just 116 shy of Beefy’s record – the most complete fast bowler England has produced in decades is on the cusp of greatness. Just as well James Andersson is not bothered “about stuff like that”.
Get him talking about his team though, and it’s a whole other story, says Jo Harman.
You’ve gone on record to say this England team can be the best England team ever. What do you have to do to justify that title?
First off, beating South Africa at home. That’s going to be a real tough test. I think the South Africans are probably the best opposition we’ve come up against in England and they use our conditions to their own strengths. Some bowlers struggle to control the swinging ball when they first come over here but South Africa have always been a tough test. Winning in India is something we haven’t done for a very, very long time and it’s going to be a huge test. It was a huge win for us in Sri Lanka in the winter because there’s obviously been a lot of questions asked about our form and our ability in those conditions, so to conquer the subcontinent will go a long way to proving how good we are as a team.
On a personal note, have you got half an eye on Ian Botham’s record wicket tally for England?
It keeps getting brought up by a lot of people but I don’t really want to think about stuff like that. Records like that are things that you look back on fondly at the end of your career but I think what makes individuals and teams successful is concentrating on the point that you’re at in your career.
There are some great head-to-heads to look forward to in the South Africa series with none better than the battle between you and Dale Steyn. So, who’s the better bowler?
It’s a tough one [laughs]! To be honest I see us as very different bowlers; we both swing the ball but I’m a lot slower than him and he goes about getting wickets in a slightly different way to me.
Steyn told us that he learnt a lot about swing bowling watching you in 2007 when he was over here playing for Warwickshire. There’s obviously a lot of mutual respect there…
There’s not enough mutual respect there for him not to bounce me!
Give him some back this summer! He says he’s learnt from you. Have you learnt from him?
I think one of the ways you get better is by watching other bowlers. I watch a lot of cricket, it doesn’t please my wife but it’s part of my job! I’ve got to do research and I watch a lot of batsmen to try and find out their weaknesses so I’m not surprised when I come up against them. It’s the same with bowling. I watch a lot of bowlers to try and learn how they bowl on certain wickets and in certain conditions and see how I can adapt my game to be successful in those parts of the world. In India a few years ago I watched Zaheer Khan hide the ball when he was reverse swinging it to make it difficult for batters to pick it up, so I then tried to add that to my game. Steyn’s the No.1 bowler in the world, so you can’t not learn things from him.
Do you know Steyn well off the pitch? Do you kick back over a beer and talk about swing bowling?
Not really, I mean last time when we were in South Africa we had a beer at the end of the game as a team and I ended up speaking to Morne Morkel; again trying to persuade him not to bounce me more than anything else. We do chat but you don’t always get into the nitty gritty of bowling and stuff like that. It is nice to have a chat and try and understand a little bit about the opposition though, especially at the end of a series.
He seems to be very pumped up and aggressive on the field and fairly laidback off it, much like yourself…
He’s always very polite and pleasant when I see him off the field and then completely the opposite when I see him on it! I think that’s the way cricket should be played: passionate and aggressive on the field and anything that happens on the field stays there. We’re similar in the respect that we’re both very aggressive on the field and we go all out to get wickets and win games for our country.
Do you think England’s bowling attack has the edge over South Africa’s in terms of strength in depth?
I don’t think there are many countries in the world that have got the strength in depth that we have in our bowling attack at the moment. We’ve probably got seven or eight guys that are knocking on the door, Chris Tremlett coming back from injury, as well as the guys that have played this summer, which is really exciting for us. But South Africa’s selectors aren’t dummies and they aren’t going to pick anyone who isn’t Test level as back-up to the three mains guys. And they’ve got still got Jacques Kallis who is a quality allrounder and his bowling is much better than people give him credit for. They’re going to be a really strong attack.
You’re going to be fighting it out for the title of the world’s best Test side. How much does the No.1 ranking mean to you?
We’ve worked really hard, it’s been a goal of ours for two or three years now and it’s been the ECB’s goal for a long time as well, so now we’re there we want to stay there for as long as possible. A lot of the guys have spoken about this before but we don’t just want to be No.1 for a couple of weeks like a one-hit wonder, we want to stick around for a bit and show people how good we are. I think we can become one of the best England teams there has ever been. One thing that we’ve got in our team is belief and we know exactly how good we are as a team and how good the individuals are that we’ve got in that team. We’ve got to try and make the most of what we’ve got because teams like this don’t come around very often and we think we’ve got something special.
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